Travels: Warwick Castle and York

 

Before I get to the point of this post, I'm so glad so many have checked out TBA's Live "5 in 5" with Melissa Ferrick! I was at the show at World Cafe Live! and, as always, Ferrick put on an absolutely incredible, personal show.  If you've yet to see her live, do yourself a favor and check her out!  Also! TBA-ers: keep your eyes peeled on the "Reviews" page in the coming weeks...rumour has it the next Live "5 in 5" will feature Erin McKeown, a personal favorite of yours truly.

Two more photos! The first of which is from inside Warwick Castle, and I was actually at very top of Guy's Tower, I believe. At the top flies the Cross of St. George and you get truly spectacular views of the castle grounds and the surrounding town of Warwick.  It's amazing to me that something built in 1068 and operational as a fortification until 1978 is still so amazingly well preserved. To ascend and descend Guy's Tower, you climb a total of 531 stone steps in the form of spiral staircases. While dizzying at times, it was incredible to literally walk on something, through something that seems so very permanent, and so very, very much a part of the land and surrounding community.  And, should you ever get the chance to go to Warwick Castle, I highly recommend stopping by the playground, even if you have no small child in tow.  That certainly didn't deter my friend Linda and I for a good ten minutes. Two words about the playground: mini-zip line. Oh yes.

The second photo is the view I had of York from my hotel room. In the background, the absolutely colossal looking structure, is York Minster. Before I even left on this trip, I knew York would hold a special place for me, as some of the York Cycle Plays will be the subject of a forthcoming dissertation chapter.  I only wish we could have had more than an overnight--there was so much to see, so much of the still-standing medieval wall to climb before dusk (after dusk, apparently, you were locked on the wall, literally), and it was simply beautiful. I did tour the Minster, and while this may seem like a constant refrain, words really cannot describe the experience. To try: it is simply huge, and if you love architecture and design, it's well worth the cost of admission.  From the textiles which make up the altar clothes, to the richness of fabrics of clerical seats, to the beautifully breath-taking stained glass, the Minster is more than bricks and mortar.  I got into the Minster shortly before it closed for evening services, and as I was walking around, the choir was rehearsing and their beautiful blend of voices coupled with the stunning acoustics gave me chills.  It was beautiful to experience, and something I'll never, ever forget.

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Whatever is powerful to you can be translated into something which will matter to somebody that you will never know. ~ Jeanette Winterson

Art is powerful. It doesn't matter the form, when it was made, who made it; it can be music, painting, literature, a photograph, or dance; it can exist for someone or for no one in particular at all. What matters, very much, is that exists to be seen, heard, taught, experienced, and felt--the kind of feeling that stirs you at your core, which may sound dramatic but really is quite wonderful.  How we feel art, how art feels us out, how we respond to it, what we see and don't see, hear and don't hear is an experience both very individual and personal, but also surprisingly communal.

There was a very sad article in The New York Times about how instruction and student achievements in music and arts is lagging in this country.  Sad, but perhaps not entirely surprising.  While I could digress into a discussion (or diatribe, you pick) about the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, I won't go there--it would be too frustrating, and as it's summer (or, almost summer), frustrations should be kept at a minimal.  I will, though, spend some time on two parts of the article I found most shocking/disturbing/saddening/and, okay, frustrating.

The first: that the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Arts last happened in 1997. Now, math was never my strong point, but according to my calculation, that's twelve years ago. Granted, if we consider the history of the executive branch of government in the past twelve years, this, also, is not too surprising, but rather, quite, quite sad. The second: the dismal results, particularly that student exposure to the arts is down an astonishing, an inexcusable, 22 percent from 1997.  Only 16 percent of students--16 percent!--had gone to a gallery, exhibit, or art museum in the last year.

Reasons for the dramatic drop in school children's exposure to the arts could reflect many things: a continually slumping economy, cuts in school budgets in school districts nationwide, and, quite possibly, something of a national indifference to the arts. In terms of our desire (addiction? Again, you choose!), to remain forever connected, instantaneously and perhaps artificially through social networking sites, we've captured perfectly the passionate plea of E.M. Forster in Howard's End.  In the novel, characters struggle to make connections in the Victorian period preceding the First World War. He begs, Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, / And human love will be seen at its height. / Live in fragments no longer. / Only connect...  His epigraph, "Only connect...", struggles between the positivity of making lasting ties and the despair found in the difficulty of making those connections.  In our electronic, instantaneous world, there are good things and bad things; blends of the real and the constructed, connections and otherwise.

Art connects, whether it's a masterpiece in a gallery or a child's finger-painting hanging on a refrigerator door.  Education also connects--combining the two seems not only logical, but also imperative.  Most children don't need to turn on the news to know the world is a violent place; rather, they simply need to step outside their front door, or, worse, they can find varying degrees of violence in their own homes. But how often do we allow children to see, hear, feel, or touch truly beautiful things?  As adults, how often do we allow ourselves the experience of such things?  How often do both really get the chance to feel how powerful art, in all its forms, can be?

The American Association of Museums estimates there are 17,500 museums in this country. That's 17,500 chances for a child and an adult to explore and discover painting, photography, music, culture, animals, and worlds bigger than they ever imagined.  Fantastic organizations, like the National Endowment for the Arts, sponsor fascinating and extremely necessary national initiatives that need not only our participation but our support.  Keeping these programs viable, keeping arts and music education in our schools, is a strong statement which says the arts matter for everyone.  Similarly, art and music education isn't something only for wealthy schools, school districts, or neighborhoods.  Art affects everyone and should be available to everyone, and if we're too lazy or indifferent to ensure the granting of equal rights, we can at least strive for equal access to art.

So if you know some good art, please, don't hide it. Share it. Tell others, shout it from rooftops, post it on your Facebook page, a Tweet, hire a sky-writer, if you can (itself, a kind of art).  And, please, don't be afraid to talk about it. You don't have to be trained in art history to know how something moves you and makes you feel; you just have to be opened to the experience.

 

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